Each team enters this game from diametrically opposed directions. Michigan State churned out two victories over non-Power 5 teams after pole vaulting into the top three of both major polls. Purdue has only managed one win in its first four games; that came at the expense of an FCS opponent. However, the teams are even in one important category: the number of victories in Big Ten games.
This will be the 66th meeting between these two programs. The first occurred in 1918. Michigan State holds a 21-11 advantage in games played in East Lansing as well as the lead in the overall series 35-27-3. The Spartans have won the last six games played versus the Boilermakers. Before that streak, Purdue had won seven of eight games against Michigan State.
Purdue at Michigan State
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Michigan State -22
Three Things to Watch
1. Inexperienced Purdue QB vs. struggling Spartan secondary
David Blough started his first college game last week. In an impressive debut, he passed for 340 yards with a completion percentage of 74 percent along with two touchdowns and one interception. He showed great potential by the offense converting 60 percent of combined third and fourth downs.
Mark Dantonio has shuffled and inserted different lineups of defensive backs. Despite those changes, the Spartans have allowed an average of 277 yards per game. That ranks at No. 107 of the 127 FBS programs.
2. Terrible special teams vs. improving special teams
Paul Griggs, Purdue's kicker has missed five out of eight field goals so far — all five were from less than 45 yards. Also, the Boilermakers are giving up an average of 27 yards on kickoffs. Virginia Tech blocked a punt by Purdue then returned it for a touchdown.
Michigan State had four of its kickoffs returned by Central Michigan; none gained more than 18 yards. The only punt return by the Chippewas went for a two-yard loss. More importantly, MSU blocked two field goals in the first quarter, helping to keep CMU off the scoreboard until late in the first half. Even with all of this improvement, the Spartans still had a breakdown: a blocked extra point after the final touchdown.
3. Looking back vs. looking ahead
Last week, Purdue allowed Bowling Green to score a touchdown with nine seconds remaining. Paul Griggs missed a field goal at the end of each half that would have given the Boilermakers the lead. Following each of those, the Falcons scored a touchdown. How much of the Boilermakers' attention in practice will be focused on having let the Falcons escape West Lafayette with a victory?
Meanwhile in East Lansing, the Spartans were trudging through another non-conference game at home. With less than nine minutes left in the game, they only led by seven. The stadium has been noticeably less than packed to watch the highly ranked home team kick off at noon against unranked foes. Could the complacency of the fans filter down to the players in the form of another second half nap? Could that attitude possibly let an underdog push the game into overtime or score the game-winning points in the final minute?
Despite an awful beginning, Purdue can salvage the season. The path to the Big Ten Championship Game is still in its control. Even if that goal is too lofty for the Boilermakers, they can qualify for a bowl game with a winning record in their conference games. The start of a reclamation of the 2015 season would start by upsetting the second-ranked team in the country on the road.
The Spartans' most impressive win was noticeably tarnished after Utah's plucking of the Ducks in Eugene. Michigan State's high ranking has been questioned due to that result. MSU has let three opponents with much less talent and depth hang around and remain within two touchdowns of tying the game or taking the lead in the fourth quarter. In order to halt this growing doubt lest it permeate the College Football Playoff selection committee, the Spartans need to score on the Boilermakers early and often. Then the guys in green must keep the guys in black and gold in the single digits for the entire game. Michigan State will improve but not quite meet that goal
Prediction: Michigan State 37, Purdue 17
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.